Caring for someone with cancer can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. It can strengthen your relationship as you demonstrate your love and commitment but it is also demanding, both physically and emotionally. If you have been caring for someone for some time, you may feel exhausted. You might feel guilty making time for yourself. However, looking after your wellbeing can help relieve the stress and exhaustion of caring for your loved one and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation. It also can make you an even better carer!
5 Tips from Carers, for Carers
1. Make time for yourself
You are very important! Make time each day for you, even if it is just ten minutes. You don’t need to leave the house; have a nap, read the paper or try some mindfulness exercises. We’ve put together 5 simple mindfulness exercises to get you started. Alternatively, you can read Mindfulness for Carers: How to Manage the Demands of Caregiving While Finding a Place for Yourself by Cheryl Rezek for an easy introduction to the practice of mindfulness.
2. Eat Well
It is important to care for your body. Time is a valuable resource when caring and it can be easy to skip meals as you simply don’t have time or feel hungry, or to grab food on the go. Try and cook healthy meals you can prepare in advance and freeze them for those days when you just don’t have time. Browse our cancer cookbooks for inspiration or read our free guide: Living with Cancer: a Guide for Carers for some more tips (including one from Karen Martin, of the Carers Trust for Scotland).
By exercising, not only are you taking care of your own physical wellbeing, but it will also make you a stronger carer. You may also be able to include the person you support in your exercise routine, whether it’s stretching or strengthening exercises or activities like gardening or going for a walk. Browse our exercising with cancer section for some hand-picked ideas that you can do together.
4. Make A Plan
No two days are the same when caring. It may not be possible to do everything you want or need to do. Planning your time by prioritising weekly tasks and activities will help. Knowing what to bring to hospital appointments and preparing in advance can be particularly useful. Don’t forget your free ‘What to Bring to Chemo’ checklist!
5. Get Support
Remember to ask friends and family for help. Judith said, “When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, people were very supportive, but as the illness has continued people have gotten used to it and forget I still need help.” Don’t be afraid to nudge and ask people again!
Let your GP know of your caring role so they can make sure you stay healthy. They can also put you in touch with other organisations that may be able to help. For more information, read our article on getting the most out of your doctor’s visit.
You are legally entitled to an assessment of your needs as a carer by your local council. This gives you the chance to talk about the impact of being a carer on your life and what might make things easier for you. For information on how to apply, visit the NHS site to assess your care and support needs or speak to your nearest Carer’s Centre for help applying. You can find your nearest here.
You are not alone, three in five people will be carers at some point in their lives. Carers UK estimates there are over 2.6 million carers in the UK.
Supporting Someone With Cancer
When hearing someone else has cancer the general response is wanting to help. Support has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety and depression in patients with cancer. A helping hand can be an immense relief for those who need to focus on their health for a while.
For support to be effective, it requires the person providing the support to be flexible, patient and have open communication and follow-through.
Open communication allows a person to express their concerns and wants freely. It is not telling them what they need. People often want to provide support based on their values and needs and not the person who needs help. For example, ask yourself, when would you want visitors if you were in hospital versus when do you visit someone in hospital. Although welcomed, people may visit their friends or relatives when it suits them, without openly discussing when it would suit the person in hospital.
- Start the conversation of what do you need? And when? Use open-ended questions (closed-ended questions have a “yes” or “no” response)
- Clarify what the person wants
- Be offended if what you suggest is not taken on board
- Place your concerns on the person
Support can fluctuate. Someone may need a lot of support one week, but very little the following week. By being flexible and following the person’s calendar, you’ll be able to make a bigger impact when the person requires it. No-one wants 10 oven-baked dishes one week and then none the following week. Flexibility requires a level of commitment and the ability not to be offended if what you’re offering is not taken that moment.
- Find out what is important for the person
- Identify when you are free and inform the person
- Establish how the person wants to be contacted and when
- Visit without telling the person first
Patience and following-through:
People’s circumstances can change quickly, especially with a cancer diagnosis. It’s hard at times to predict when someone will need support and what it may entail. If you do say you want to help, it could be a few weeks to months for it to be taken up. Additionally it may be something that you did not think that you would need to do.
- Be honest with yourself and the person you wish to support if you have the time and availability
- Text or call when you say you are going to
- Be surprised if you are asked to do something
- Say you can do something if you cannot
A simple way to support someone with a cancer diagnosis is by reminding them that you’re thinking of them and that they are important. If you are time-poor or live abroad, sending a small gift or card can improve someone’s mood and give them a sense of encouragement as well.
Live Better With has a large selection of gifts and bundles designed to improve day to day life of someone with a cancer diagnosis. They can be found here: Thoughtful Gifts Ideas for Someone With Cancer.
- Let’s Talk About Cancer [Infographic] – We asked over 500 people about comments they’d received from friends and loved ones about their cancer diagnosis. We know that talking about cancer isn’t always easy, but the results we received absolutely shocked us.
We’ve curated a range of tips and products to make caring for someone with cancer a little bit easier. They’ve all been hand-picked by our community, and cover a wide range of areas including Recipes, Treatment Planning, Mindfulness, Showering, Mobility and many others.
You can also read our free guide to caring for someone with cancer.